Spring Cleaning: Facing Information Gluttony

I often wonder when people hear the phrase “spring cleaning,” if they also consider their electronic clutter. My spring cleaning cues are almost always based in the physical world. Notably when the strong sunshine streams through the windows illuminating dust. It’s also likely that opening windows in spring contributes to the dust, but maybe that’s part of the process, too.

It’s likely a combination of factors in spring that motivate a cleaning urge. Perhaps it’s the nicer weather or longer days. This may give people that much needed boost of energy to tackle the cleaning. Or perhaps it’s more psychological that a good, thorough cleaning feels good after being inside during the winter months. I suppose it’s symbolic of a fresh start. Or yet, for others it may be the changing seasons prompt a routine of switching out clothes, refreshing things, replacing the battery in the smoke detector, etc.

Whatever the reason, spring cleaning is part of our culture. However, it doesn’t seem to impact our digital world in quite the same way. Perhaps this is because we don’t see dust accumulating on our digital hoards. And we never struggle to shut that digital closet since it’s so easy and cheap to buy more (virtual) space.

We have access to more information than ever. ┬áThe reduced cost of digital storage and having everything available in digital formats has changed the dynamic. Confronting us is an abundance of digital “stuff” that amounts to more than hoarding. It’s crossed beyond overload and is pure gluttony.

When we only dealt with physical items, we could never save everything.

  1. Physical items take up space, which many of us don’t have in limitless supply.
  2. The time investment needed to organize, store, and maintain everything would be enormous. So we routinely get rid of it.
  3. Sometimes physical items get destroyed, used up, or fall apart. This makes makes the decision to part with them easy and necessary.

However, confronted with our gluttony of digital assets, it’s a different landscape and a new kind of problem. The task of maintaining and managing it is too overwhelming. It leaves us greedy for more without good solutions in place to control our excessive indulgence for information.

Digital overload is real. Spring cleaning for it is not sufficient as too much will accumulate in a year. My proposal is to focus on the strategic save. Purge the rest. Routinely.

Spring Ahead

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a spring enthusiast. Each year, when the wind changes from a piercing stab to a gentle caress, I hang up my winter coat. From that point on, I refuse to put it on again. If the temperature drops a bit, I add a layer. I remain stubborn about this, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

This past weekend, the weather was unseasonably cold. The temperature dropped below freezing. The wind turned bitter and piercing. We had snow! Sunday I went for a walk. I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, a thermal shirt, a down vest, and my heavy leather coat. In addition, I also wore a hat, gloves, and wool socks. I felt cold! A few times during the walk I wished I had reneged on my stubbornly held view that the winter coat stays retired until next winter.

I mentioned this to a couple of friends, both of whom dislike winter. They both told me they keep their winter gear out until they’re sure. For one friend, this means May! With all the crazy weather changes, I could almost justify the rationale. Personally, I’d already packed up and then unpacked the winter boots two times since February. Each time I felt certain I was done with my chunky, sturdy winter boots, only to drag them out again and again for surprise weather events. Ugh.

However, as I hunched into my layers, gloved hands in pockets to stay warm, attempting to enjoy the walk, I was reminded of something special. I glanced up, exposing my tender face to the penetrating wind and saw buds on the tree branches. A sure sign that the arrival of spring is in full force. The sudden frost and drop in temperature probably killed some plants. Yet, many survived and continue to grow and develop.

I took comfort in that sign as I scurried home to warm up with some hot cocoa. The perfect end to a snowy, cold, windy walk, anytime of the year.

The Future of Email

A few years ago, or maybe even closer to ten, my profession was buzzing with the end of email. Around this time messaging on social media, or other alternatives, was gaining popularity. I recall one colleague telling me that he would love to give up email and only use Twitter. The catch for him was that not everyone used Twitter, or not enough people used it.

The seduction and ease of email is that it’s universal. Regardless of which browser or type of email account used, they’re all compatible with each other. Unlike my colleague, email is usually a first choice for communication precisely because everybody has it. I imagine my twitter-loving colleague often made tough decisions because not everyone used Twitter. Or he ended up with a lot of hybrid messaging in email and Twitter. Or just reverting back to email because everybody uses it.

Another selling point of email is that it’s reliable. A lot of companies rely on email for communication and sharing information. Even at my job, I’m always amazed at how many important kernels of information and key decisions get buried in emails. Even though I can find things, it seems inefficient to be hunting through emails for essential information. It takes a lot of effort and thread scrolling to find what I need sometimes.

Although email has a lot of compelling reasons to use it, that doesn’t mean we should be using it for everything. Over time, as more types of information started to be shared, email became the starting point. For example, lots of people still share photos as email attachments even though better, easier, and more secure options exist. However, the effort to change to one of those options, or have the new option work for everyone, creates barriers. I know there are better ways for me to share the occasional photo with my friends and family. But email is the fastest and easiest. I know it will work and I don’t have to explain it to anyone. Or train someone on how to use something new. Or require someone to download a new app, or create a new login.

I’m not sure we’ll ever get away from using email. However, we can definitely be a lot more effective managing it. We can also be more selective with how we use it.

The Future of Shopping: Constant Surveillance

Last week I blogged about an Amazon technology called “Just Walk Out.”

Essentially, the technology charges consumers for their purchases when they leave the store. No cashiers or long line ups. No monetary transactions of any kind. It’s a seamless experience.

Except…the experience of having cameras and sensors track, monitor, and record every movement in a grocery store seems creepy. Do I really want something to know this much about my grocery store shopping habits? I realize a certain amount about my shopping habits is already being tracked, analyzed, and monetized from credit card transactions.

Even so, the “Just Walk Out” technology takes it to a new level. It has to in order to be effective in charging people for what they actually take when they leave the store. But do I really want a report of how long I spent shopping? Or how many things I put in my virtual cart and returned to the shelf before leaving? Or how long I spent considering a certain item? Is this useful information?

To me, it likely isn’t very useful. However, to the company it’s probably a gold mine of information. Within a short period of time I’m sure stores utilizing the “Just Walk Out” technology will have all kinds of new insights on their customers. In the long run, will this improve my shopping experience? Or just make it one more opportunity to inundate me with too many ads and tempting offers?

Maybe the problem is me, that I’m too old-fashioned about grocery shopping. For example, I tried hard to appreciate online grocery shopping during the pandemic. I thought it would be a great time saver and a huge convenience. Instead, finding the things I wanted to buy online took longer than actually going to the store. This was a direct result of poor search options for many online grocery stores. I also found the accuracy was lacking. It seemed there was always something off about my order. Either I had things I never ordered or I was missing items. Or sometimes I ended up with these bizarre substitutions.

For me, online grocery shopping was not hugely successful. I’ll reserve judgement about using “Just Walk Out” until I get an opportunity to try it. Creepiness aside, being able to shop and avoid lining up to pay sounds like a real convenience and a time saver.

The Future of Shopping: No line ups

For years, Amazon has been perfecting the “Just Walk Out” technology. I read about it a few years ago when it was still being developed. Essentially, it offers customers a way to shop and pay for items without human interaction. Upon entering the store, customers have different options how to track their purchases. They can either swipe a credit/debit card, do a palm scan and link it to their Amazon account, or scan a QR code in the Amazon app. Either way, customers are billed automatically for whatever leaves the store with them.

All over the store, hundreds of cameras and scanners track every movement. They seamlessly add items to the customer’s virtual cart. They can also remove items from the virtual cart if a customer changes their mind and puts the item back. Either way, the cameras and scanners are watching, tracking, and recording everything. The customer finishes shopping and walks out of the store. No line ups, no cashier. The charges appear on the credit card or Amazon account. Sometimes there is a time lag to receive the charges. I wouldn’t like this as I check my receipts right away for accuracy.

It’s interesting to read about a new technology designed to minimize or eliminate interactions. This coming at a time when people are desperate for human interaction, after a long two years of lockdowns and isolation. I’m sure some people appreciate a quick chat with the cashier, even through plexiglass and masks.

However, a lot of the appeal is eliminating line ups and long waits to pay. This is definitely a pain point. I can see the benefit for this in a lot of scenarios. Places with high volume where people are on the go, such as airports or transit stations.

Another possible advantage is the opportunity for cashiers to focus on other things like assisting customers or stocking shelves, etc. Whenever I enter an actual store, I feel like it’s almost impossible to find anyone who can help. So maybe having more customer service reps and less cashiers is a smart move. Although there’s always the chance a store may hire less staff with automation available.

I’m sure I would try this out, especially if I needed to grab something fast while on the go. Even though, all the tracking and monitoring makes me a bit uneasy. I suppose it’s the direction we’re moving in.

Are we still concerned about Screen Time?

Two months before the pandemic started in March 2020, I posted, “Monitoring Screen Time“. I had lofty plans post more on this topic. I even had a few apps that monitored screen time and app usage flagged to try out and research further. In the early months of 2020, the amount of screen time was considered troubling and referred to as “addiction.”

It’s strange to consider how a single event, albeit a monumental one, fundamentally altered the perception of screen time. Once the pandemic started, people praised digital connectivity, including increased amounts of screen time. Many of us in isolation or lock down only had screen time to remain connected, or “visit” with others. It brought new meaning to how we connected with one another.

Throughout the pandemic, the amount of screen time became a low priority. This is likely because it contradicted the amount of screen time necessary for things like remote working and virtual learning to be available and successful. How could students keep learning from home with limited screen time?

I’m sure for some parents trying to manage home “virtual” schooling, along with working full-time, resulted in more screen time. It may have been necessary occasionally so a parent could answer a work email or attend a meeting.

It seems as though restrictions may be lifting, finally! I wonder if we will revert back to the pre-pandemic opinions of screen time. We already relied heavily on screens before the pandemic, but they’ve taken on a new role now. I’m sure for some people, going out and socializing in person will serve as the perfect reason to reduce screen time. For others, the validation and necessity of screen time will continue to enforce the practice. Maybe some people have developed a new habit, or further engrained an existing one. It’s hard to know how people will react. Or who will become a strong advocate of less screen time or continued screen time.

One thing is sure, the social isolation validated how important connection is between people. The question moving forward is can we continue that virtually via screen time? Many of us have been surviving on it for almost two years. Or do we need to connect without the screens? Only time, and the waning of this long, long pandemic, will reveal the answers.